by Harriet Shenkman

Canary-Yellow Kitchen

Alone at my granite counter now,
I picture the Formica table
in the canary-yellow
kitchen of my girlhood.

Wedged between the stove
and the window, I sit staring
at undershirts hanging stiffly
on the clothesline. Ignore
my plate filled with a slice of meat
and a heap of Delmonte green beans.

A fluorescent ceiling light
shone on my father
celebrating a ripe cantaloupe,
while mother
bemoaned the weather,

me squeezed in between,
I could run downstairs
and play with a sister I didn’t have.


My Only Clue

My mother had a missing big toe.
I would watch her stuff a wad of cotton into the left foot
of her stocking, pull it up and straighten the black seam.

She never told me how the toe went missing
or spoke of her childhood in a small Russian town.
I imagined her toe stuck in an animal trap,

chopped off by marauding Cossacks,
eaten by a bear or by  flesh-eating insects.
It must have been hard

to leave her family and move to a new country.
She was silent when she received the news
her sisters and brothers shot into a waiting pit.

And, she never said why she left me in an orphanage
while she went upstate to be cured in a TB sanitorium.
And still later, she took a taxi to a secret address

to rid herself of a child she couldn’t afford.
Her hardships and sorrows were not for a child to know,
her missing toe, my only clue.


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